Friday, 29 September 2017

Nurse With Wound - The Surveillance Lounge (2009)

Jumping forward 28 years from last week's chaotic snapshot of young NWW at its most unfocused, we arrive at the laser-precision night terror that is The Surveillance Lounge.  Almost a distillation of all of Stapleton's greatest devices of creeping unease - disembodied voices, sinister drones, crackly record surface noise and other sounds best left unidentified - everything that made the likes of Homotopy To Marie, Colder Still from Thunder Perfect Mind and Salt Marie Celeste so memorable are deftly woven into what can only be described as quintessential Nurse With Wound.

This hour-plus modern masterpiece was divided into four tracks of roughly equal length, but sustains the same sepia-tinged house of horrors atmosphere throughout, so may as well be regarded as one long work in four movements.  It's not all formless, fearful drone though, with diversions aplenty: the fast section of The Golden Age Of Telekenesis, with its deranged horse-racing commentator (or bingo caller?) and immediate aftermath is a memorable highlight that reassures the listener that this isn't an album devoid of Stapleton's playful, absurdist sense of humour.

Other noisy onslaughts arrive at various odd moments, making The Surveillance Lounge recommendable as a headphones-in-dark-room experience only if you're game for the occasional jump-scare.  A gentle easy-listening sample offers only brief respite most times it appears, before the album blindfolds you and spins you around once more.  Don't miss the ultimate in dramatic sonic extremes which has been saved for last - Yon Assassin Is My Equal truly is a NWW classic.  The aforementioned lounge-music sample is developed a little more around the halfway mark to give a little oasis of calm after noisy chaos, before more creepy voices and ambient whirring takes us to the end.

mega / zippy

Previously posted at SGTG:
Insect & Individual Silenced (1981)
Homotopy To Marie (1982)
Sylvie & Babs (1985)
Spiral Insana (1986)
Thunder Perfect Mind (1992)
Salt Marie Celeste (2003)
Spitch'cock One (2004)

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Metropole Orkest - Beneath The Underdog: Charles Mingus Revisited (BBC Proms 2017)

This tribute concert to the legendary composer-bassist-pianist took place on 24th August as part of the Proms, and as I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the broadcast of it, here it is.  The Dutch Metropole Orkest were conducted by Jules Buckley, with great soloists (L-R at front of picture above are Leo Pellegrino, Bart van Lier and Christian Scott) making a more-than-decent fist of 15 Mingus classics in just under two hours.  Boogie Stop Shuffle, IX Love, Gunslinging Bird, Fables Of Faubus, Moanin' to name just a few all sparkle with the invention, wit and irresistible swing that they require, and that's even before mentioning the four vocal pieces.
27 year old Kandace Springs was IMO the star of the show - she released her own debut album last year, which I'm now keen to check out.  Her renditions here of Weird Nightmare, Duke Ellington's Sound Of Love and a pair of songs from Joni Mitchell's Mingus collaboration,The Dry Cleaner From Des Moines and God Must Be A Boogie Man are all superb.  The audience were even asked to join in on the chorus of the latter - slightly corny, but it works in the overall celebratory atmosphere.  On that note, apologies for having to fade out the applause and between-song banter all the time - slightly over-enthusiastic radio announcer (see P.S. note below) - but hey, the great music here is what matters.  And as the inevitable and Albert Hall-roof-raising finale suggests, you'd Better Git It In Your Soul.

mega / zippy pt.1, zippy pt.2

P.S. I've decided to also offer a download of the complete, unedited broadcast, if anyone would prefer that - one mp3 file, 340MB, 2hrs 28mins, available here.

Previously posted at SGTG: Oh Yeah

Monday, 25 September 2017

Kim Kashkashian, Sarah Rothenberg, Houston Chamber Choir - Rothko Chapel (2015)

This album came up in the comments a short while back, so as promised, here it is.  Asked to curate a programme of music for a 40th anniversary concert at Rothko Chapel in 2011, Sarah Rothenberg, pianist and leader of the Da Camera organisation for chamber music in Houston, TX, chose to frame Morton Feldman's unique Rothko-inspired work with pieces by John Cage and Erik Satie.

The connection, Rothenberg explains in her lengthy liner note to this collection of 2012-13 recordings of the pieces in the programme, was that the three composers 'form a triumvirate of original creators who were each closely tied to the visual art of their time'.  And besides that, on this ECM New Series CD the programme just sounds great as a flowing, 70-minute immersion in some unique, inspired music.
Feldman's Rothko Chapel, written in tribute to the painter's great work just after his death, is the obvious opener to this collection.  Its sombre, eerie choral drift, piano backdrop and viola lead remain the perfect musical expression of Rothko's diffuse hints of colour on black backgrounds that graced the inner walls of the Houston chapel.

The remainder of the programme alternates between Rothenberg on solo piano playing inspired choices from Satie's Gnossiennes and Ogives, and the Houston Chamber Choir performing works by John Cage.  I hadn't heard any choral work by Cage prior to this disc, and the pieces here, Four², ear for EAR and Five, sit really well with the main Feldman work.  The programme closes with one of Cage's finest piano pieces, In A Landscape.

mega / zippy

Friday, 22 September 2017

Phil Keaggy - The Master & The Musician (1978)

Thought this might make a good follow-up to the Hackett post - I've been listening to it a lot recently as a companion-piece to both Voyage Of The Acolyte and Please Don't Touch.  Phil Keaggy was (and I gather still is) a Christian-Contemporary singer-songwriter, but took a break from that after his first couple of albums to make this all-instrumental masterpiece that fully showcased his writing and playing skills.

From a couple of videos I've watched (unrelated to this album), Keaggy didn't frequently get nicknamed 'the greatest nine-fingered guitarist in the world' and suchlike for nothing, and although The Master & The Musician only hits cooking temperature at a few well-chosen moments (mostly toward the end of the two long suites, Reflections and Medley), the subtlety of a lot of these tracks makes the material shine all the brighter.  The album opens with a synth sequence overlaid with a nifty E-bow display (Keaggy was an early adopter of the device) before settling into an acoustic pattern that gets gradually overlaid with chiming electric lines.  Following that, the mellow jazz-fusion of Agora (The Marketplace), along with Follow Me Up later on, offers the most upbeat material and memorable, masterful-but-unpretentious lead lines.

For the most part though, it was the acoustic tracks on this album that brought Hackett to mind for me, especially in the choice of flute and other wind instruments to accompany the guitar.  The Castle's Call, Wedding In The Country Manor and Deep Calls Unto Deep all offer memorable melodies and gorgeous technique throughout, and could've sat proudly on a Steve Hackett album (or indeed, an album by that other ex-Genesis guitarist Anthony Phillips - whose back catalogue I've yet to take a proper stab at) of the era.  And although there's no lyrics on Master & Musician, that doesn't mean no vocals - Keaggy and his wife Bernadette can both be heard on the cute little beatboxing experiment Mouthpiece, and harmonising sweetly and wordlessly on the penultimate medley.  All in all, an absolute gem of an album for anyone wanting to hear an underrated (in the secular music world, at least) guitarist/composer at his most inspired.

mega / zippy

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Steve Hackett - Voyage Of The Acolyte (1975)

Three years prior to Please Don't Touch, Steve Hackett was making the most of the downtime whilst Genesis were between vocalists by recording and releasing this, his debut solo album. A masterpiece of composition and playing technique, Voyage Of The Acolyte is sophisticated, punchy progressive rock of the highest calibre, and couldn't have been a better calling card to kick off a solo career that continues to this day.

Straight out of the gate, Ace Of Wands cracks into a offbeat groove and manages to pack about 15 minutes of ideas into five, ably assisted by Phil Collins' jazz fusion influence.  With Collins on drums and Mike Rutherford on bass throughout, Voyage is often thought of as a lost Genesis album - more of that to come in the album's second half, but first Hackett shows off his acoustic skills on Hands Of The Priestess and The Hermit, with the former establishing the long-term pairing with his brother John's gorgeous flautistry.  Halfway through, though, Steve drops in the King Crimson-like crunch of A Tower Struck Down, filling it out with an ominous synth sequence, odd little tape cuts of studio noise and even what sounds like a sample of a Nuremberg rally, before a bomb blast leads into a quiet outro and the remainder of Priestess.

The final two major tracks on the album are the ones that really lay claim to Voyage Of The Acolyte being the greatest album Genesis never made.  Star Of Sirius even has a Phil Collins lead vocal, making it effectively a Banks-less trailer for Trick Of The Tail.  The very best gets saved for last though, in the 12 minutes of Shadow Of The Hierophant, co-credited to Rutherford and apparently rehearsed circa Foxtrot.  A grand mellotron and guitar swell gives way to an acoustic section and Sally Oldfield's vocal.  Eventually, a hammering/tapping solo from Hackett leads into another short instrumental, before fading away to a glockenspiel theme, which will gradually fade back into one of the most stunning finales I've ever heard on a record like this.  Simply, truly magnificent progressive music in the truest sense, with not a note wasted - don't miss this album if it's new to you, prog really doesn't get much better than this.

mega / zippy

Monday, 18 September 2017

Nurse With Wound - Insect & Individual Silenced (1981)

Been listening to a ton of Nurse With Wound this past week or two, and there hasn't been any posted here for ages, so here goes - with the one that Steven Stapleton famously hated so much that he burned the master tapes.  Finally relenting in 2007 on hearing a near-flawless vinyl rip, Stapleton decided that the album, although still a failure by his standards, wasn't half as bad as he remembered, and allowed the vinyl rip (by Kevin Spencer of Robot Records) to become this official reissue.

Listening to it now, especially in context with the three earliest NWW albums that preceded it, and Homotopy To Marie that came after, I certainly don't see a dip in quality with Insect - if anything, it's just a blip on the trajectory by which Stapleton's surrealist editing & mixing craft had been steadily increasing from album to album, which would lead to Homotopy being the first full-on masterpiece that he remains justifiably proud of.  The much freer, anarchic sound of Insect lies in the recording circumstances, as recalled in Stapleton's detailed reminisce in the CD sleevenotes - reproduced here, about halfway down the page, headed "1980: A Year Of Change".  TL;DR: Stapleton, and mates Trevor Reidy and Jim 'Foetus' Thirlwell go into a studio for two days to "see what would happen".  Record ensues; Stapleton mortified - until latter-day reappraisal.  So let's listen...

Kicking off with a roar of reverberating feedback, which will reappear sporadically throughout the track's 27 minutes, Alvin's Funeral (The Milk Was Delivered In Black Bottles) is heady, classic early NWW.  Plenty of noise and tape mutilation, voices in different languages, and other barely identifiable clankings and howlings.  Anyone familiar with Part 2 of Bradford Red Light District, Stapleton and William Bennett's experiment in cranking up every reverb setting in the studio to 11, will recognise the source that those roars of feedback have been 'borrowed' from...

The second track, Absent Old Queen Underfoot, was the first to be recorded when the three participants rocked up in the studio to let loose on a reduced drumkit (Reidy), bass amp and jack plugs (Thirlwell) and a crappy guitar (Stapleton).  The result sounds almost like industrial jazz of the most wonderfully inept variety - something to tap your foot to in a jazz club, if you happened to be Jack Nance in Eraserhead.  Lastly, there's the shorter, slightly more recognisably Nurselike Mutilés du Guerre, with more tape-bent squeaking, screaming and the looped voice of Brigitte Fontaine, and the most magnificently surreal ending possible, an arrangement of Ode To Joy for voice and... banjo.  Essential weirdness that deserves full recognition in Stapleton's long, surreal career.
CD reissue cover, 2007
mega / zippy

Friday, 15 September 2017

Hugues Dufourt - Saturne / Surgir (1993 compi, rec. '80 and '85)

As the Cassini spacecraft makes its final descent into Saturn's atmosphere, what better music to celebrate its voyage with?  Well, maybe Holst's Saturn, a classic seven minutes of grand old melancholy in its own right; but I'm going to go for 43 minutes of epic, electronically-inflected orchestral atmospherics courtesy of Dufourt (b. 1943 in Lyon).

One of the co-founders (who included Murail and Grisey) of the French-spectralism-focused Ensemble l’Itinéraire, Dufourt wrote Saturne for them in 1978-9.  It was also the time of the launch of his own Instrumental Research and Sound Synthesis Group (CRISS), which gives a clue to the content of this masterpiece.  Eerie orchestral swells and bell-like percussion are swathed in gaseous synthesiser swishes from the beginning, evoking the descent through Saturn's outer atmosphere to the unknown world below.  The percussion gets periodically more thunderous, there's judicious use of a staccato electric guitar, and the developing synth tones blend in perfectly with the rising and falling orchestral swells.  This sustained atmosphere is wonderfully evocative on headphones in a dark room - highly recommended.

Saturne is supported on this CD by Surgir (1985), a half-hour orchestral work in a similar vein, but without the synthesisers and guitar.  It's worth a listen, but it's the main work that I keep going back to with all its great swirling electronics.
Original LP cover for Saturne, 1980
 mega / zippy

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Egborto Gismonti & Academia De Danças - Sanfona (1981)

Fancy a concept album about a travelogue through the festivals and folk dances of Brazil?   How about two, one with a full band, and one completely solo, both exquisitely performed and achingly melodic in their bittersweet evocations of life and celebration?  Stop right here then - Sanfona, named for a Brazilian relative of the accordion and also intended to metaphorically symbolise the sheer breadth of Brazilian popular culture down the ages, sits high up in Egberto Gismonti's back catalogue as a stunning example of a master craftsman at the peak of his evocative powers.

The first disc of Sanfona, featuring Gismonti supported by a three-piece version of his Academia De Danças band, takes us through the birth and refinement of the samba, forró and seresta musical and rhythmic forms, whilst giving the musicians plenty of space to stretch out and make Gismonti's wonderful compositions sparkle with life.

The second disc is Gismonti entirely alone and recorded live, inevitably spotlighting his stunning guitar technique, especially on the 16-minute De Repente.  After this comes Vale de Eco, an atmospheric performance on Indian organ, before the last of the album's original four sides turns inward for some truly gorgeous music.  12 de Fevereiro was written to commemorate the birth of Gismonti's first daughter, and Carta de Amor a few weeks later - both feature achingly beautiful, keening vocals and close the album on a perfectly intimate high note.

Disc 1 mega / Disc 1 zippy
Disc 2 mega / Disc 2 zippy

Previously posted at SGTG: Circense

Monday, 11 September 2017

Tristan Murail - Gondwana, Désintégrations, Time and Again (1989 compi, rec. '80/'86'/87)

Tristan Murail (b. 1947 in Le Havre) occupies the same upper echelons of French spectralism as Gérard Grisey, meaning that these three works from the 80s are all built on the microscopic properties of sound, subsequently blown back up into unexpected shapes to create otherwordly, spectacular pieces of music.

In the purely orchestral Gondwana (1980), the gradual drift of the ancient supercontinent is represented by small textural elements of the music being reconfigured and arranged into new, more striking layers.  If this wasn't spectacular enough, the other two works were even more fascinating for me.  Time And Again (1986) adds a Yamaha DX7 synth to the orchestra, and again the musical textures and themes are transformed and mutated all over the place.

Désingtégrations (1982-3) is the definite highlight of this disc IMO, with a smaller ensemble playing against tapes generated by computer at IRCAM.  Original tones and timbres from the instruments were fed into the computer and analysed to the smallest detail, with the resultant tapes meshing eerily with the ensemble and painting the tone colours with a wonderfully weird, alien luminosity.  I'm reminded occasionally of Vangelis circa Invisible Connections.  Download this one to enjoy the two orchestral works of course, but Désingtégrations is utterly unmissable.

mega / zippy

Friday, 8 September 2017

Rune Lindblad - Objekt 2: Electronic & Concrete Music 1962-1988 (1998 compi)

As promised, more Rune Lindblad - covering a wider timespan this time, making for an even more varied and interesting collection.  We pick up just after the Death Of The Moon compilation left off, with Objekt 2 (the title track) offering some lo-fi string-sawing from 1962, then there's only one further piece from that decade, the choppy, echoing voice experiments of Plasibenpius (1968-9).

Four pieces from the 70s follow, where Lindblad appears to have taken a darker, more unsettling turn.  The burbling and whirring electronics of Hälften Av Någonting are periodically interrupted by a disturbing tape recording - possibly from a horror film, but who knows?  As the Swedish title seems to suggest, it's like we're only getting 'half of something'.  Frage, from 1972, and Maskinlandskap, 1975, both suggest early Cabaret Voltaire or Throbbing Gristle - the latter title in English is, appropriately, Machine Landscape; and Tora (1972-3), given Wednesday's sad news, is now sounding rather poignant to my ears - it could've jumped in straight from the recording sessions for Can's Aumgn.

We then jump forward a decade for the last three tracks, where Lindblad seems to have got more into synths.  The tech might be more modern, but the recording is still slightly on the lo-fi side, making Innan Konsert, the longest piece here at 12 mins, sound like a bedroom synth aritiste of the very highest calibre, taking their Berlin-school influences somewhere unique.  Lagun I Uppror (lagoon in revolt) (1987) is as supremely bizarre as its title.  A sequencer pulse takes on some wild percussion rhythms and synth squeals in ever-escalating combat, before finally calling a truce to the unhinged frenzy right at the end.  Lastly, Dimstrak (1987-88) is perhaps the oddest piece of all - it's practically a sweet little new-agey folk song featuring flute-like synth accompanied by acoustic guitar.  The guitar plays the final melody just after the three-minute mark, wrapping up this fascinating collection in possibly the most weird and wonderful way possible.

mega / zippy

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Can - Soundtracks (1970)

R.I.P. Holger Czukay, 24 March 1938 - Sept 2017

Danke schoen, Holger, for all your great music; for a full life packed with phenomenal, metronomic bass playing, pioneering short wave radio and tape work, great production, inspired collaborations, and so much more.  Sorry that I spent the second half of the 90s thinking your surname was pronounced Kazooki - I'd just never heard anyone say it, and had much less access to information back then.  Speaking of which, I still remember the first ever webpage I searched for when my high school got its first internet-ready PC: nice to see it's still available 20 years later.

Folks, it's time to celebrate the music of yet another true pioneer who has sadly left us.  For starters, may I recommend turning up Mother Sky as loud as possible.  If you don't have access to it, grab it right here.

mega / zippy

Previously posted at SGTG: Canaxis and Monster Movie

Monday, 4 September 2017

Asmus Tietchens - Biotop (1981)

By request, here's Asmus Tietchens' first album for Sky records - a perfectly timed request, as I'd been pondering the recent lack of classic German electronica on this blog and trying to figure out what would be a good one to go for.  Between '81 and '83, Tietchens would make a quartet of albums to represent what he called his 'Zeitzeichen' (time-signal) phase, of "rhythmic-harmonic set pieces and gaudy records sleeves".  Previously posted at SGTG are the third one, In Die Nacht, and the fourth, Litia, so that just leaves Spät-Europa to post someday.  

Gaahh, bloody Spät-Europa... it was the first of all of the four that I bought, but every time I try to give its gleefully obnoxious 20 tracks an airing it still just ends up annoying the crap out of me.  Which probably means I do actually like it, in much the way that Tietchens may have intended.  But anyway, for now, here's the somewhat more accessible 16 tracks of Biotop.  Tietchens certainly gave his Zeitzeichen project a memorable curtain-raiser with In Die Zukunft, sounding like the theme to a suitably futuristic sci-fi movie, especially in its wonderful, propulsive second half.  

From there in, the electro-weirdness just gets dialed up to the max, sounding like a hyper-caffeinated version of Cluster's largely energy-deficient release from the same year.  The garish album cover couldn't be more perfect for the music it contains, and fluent German speakers (i.e. not me) will probably get the most out of what seems to be an overriding concept of mocking contemporary consumer society, in the punning track titles and the satirical vocals on Moderne Arroganz, the lyrics of which are apparently a list of different types of insurance. 

Biotop does eventually wind down to offer a bit of respite in the gorgeous, melodic penultimate track Träumchen Am Fenster, before ending on the beatless title track.  Biotop, the track, points both backwards to Tietchens' first (pre-Sky) LP Nachtstucke and forwards to the more avant-garde stuff to come.  As he says (in German) in the final moments, which formed a lock-groove on the original LP, "Let's see how things go".

mega / zippy

Friday, 1 September 2017

Nils Frahm - The Bells (2009)

Looking for the ideal wind-down for this first September weekend?  May I suggest 40 minutes of exquisite solo piano, courtesy of pianist/composer/producer Nils Frahm, born 1982 in Hamburg.  In November 2008, Frahm and composer friend Peter Broderick rented a Berlin church for two nights, capturing over five hours of Frahm's improvisations with Broderick providing idiosyncratic musical direction (at one point lying down on the piano strings).  The best of these sessions was then trimmed down to album length.

The end result clearly displays Frahm's talent for melody and harmony, and a Jarrett-esque knack for pulling instant classics out of thin air.  But even more than that, The Bells is primarily an album about exploiting the resonances of the piano and the ambient atmosphere of the church to their fullest extent.  It's certainly no mellow, Harold Budd-like chillout experience, although these moments are evident - but if you were to use this album for relaxation you'll frequently find the mood punctured by several instances of Frahm letting rip at full power, like someone taking a snooze on a churchyard bench only to be jolted awake by pealing bells.

Inspired by the recording venue, Frahm seems to enjoy these bell-like piano tones ringing through the reverberating space as majestically as possible.  I'm reminded more than once of Erik Satie's Ogives, especially a recent ECM New Series rendering by Sarah Rothenberg (the album centered around Feldman's Rothko Chapel; may post it at some point).  Stirring, invigorating stuff.

mega / zippy